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A grievance is an issue raised by a worker through an internal channel at the farm or factory where they are employed, e.g. a suggestion box, or verbally or in writing to a supervisor, Human Resources, a union or a worker representative.
An allegation is a claim that Fair Trade Standards are not being complied with. Anyone; workers, community organizations, producer organizations, unions etc., can file an allegation with Fair Trade USA.
Farms and factories producing for the Fair Trade USA market are required to have internal grievance procedures per our standards and associated compliance criteria:
- A written grievance procedure is in place and communicated to workers verbally and in writing.
- Workers are not disciplined, dismissed or discriminated against for using any grievance procedure.
Best practice grievance programs include written procedures that are communicated to all workers, records maintained of how each grievance is addressed, protection for workers against retribution, and a means to report a grievance against a supervisor to someone other than that supervisor. Workers should attempt to resolve issues through internal grievance channels before bringing the issue to parties outside the farm or factory.
What kind of information is covered in this process?
Any violation of a Fair Trade standard, including labor and employment standards and trade standards, can be reported through this process. Violations can take various forms, such as an allegation about labor standards not met, an allegation of worker mistreatment, or allegations of trade standards not being complied with such as incomplete payments to sellers or physical traceability breaches.
Actions outside of the spirit of Fair Trade
The spirit of Fair Trade is characterized by respect, collaboration, transparency, sustainable development, equity, integrity, long-term relationships and justice. In the case of management and workers, it is also characterized by a collaborative relationship that seeks mutual respect, joint problem-solving, worker involvement, and improved livelihoods for workers and their families. Allegations of violations of the spirit of Fair Trade may also be reported through this process.
Who can submit an allegation?
FTUSA encourages any person or organization with firsthand information about certified entities that do not meet international labor standards or Fair Trade standards, or engage in activities in gross violation of the spirit of Fair Trade, to file an allegation through this process. Examples include a worker at the farm/factory, a union representative, a cooperative, or a U.S. buyer. During their initial training in Fair Trade standards, farm and factory workers will receive information on their rights and the allegations procedures by the FTUSA trainer.
How is information submitted?
Allegations and other information can be submitted to Fair Trade USA via the “Fair Trade USA Grievance and Non-Compliance Form ” and sent by mail, email or fax. Allegations may also be communicated via telephone to the Fair Trade USA office in Oakland, California. (See Grievance & Non-Compliance Form  for contact information.)
Who investigates an allegation?
Fair Trade USA will review the submitted information and determine if an outside investigation is needed. Factors that determine whether an investigation is needed include the severity of the issue and the source. If the issue can be resolved with dialogue and training, or if it is already being addressed through an internal grievance channel or other external allegations process, a full investigation may not be necessary. In any case, the complainant will be notified of the process and timeline.
If an investigation is needed, Fair Trade USA will assign in-house and/or independent investigators and auditors to investigate the issue, depending on the nature of the allegation. If Fair Trade USA has access to additional information through existing relationships with farm/factory managers, workers, NGOs and brands, the investigation may include additional interviews with these relevant outside parties.
How are decisions made?
A Fair Trade USA cross-departmental committee will review the investigation’s findings and recommendations and make a decision regarding the case. Additional documentation (e.g. supporting paperwork, additional interviews, employment documentation, etc) may be requested to substantiate allegations. Possible decisions include case dismissal when no wrongdoing was demonstrated, required training or other forms of remediation, corrective actions or suspension of the Fair Trade certification of the certified entity under investigation.
Is the outcome of an investigation made public?
Due to the sensitive nature of allegations, the results of a review or investigation will not be made public. Rather, decisions will be communicated directly to both the complainant and the target of the allegation. If the decision involves suspending or revoking certification or registration of a party, this status change will be communicated, but not the reason for the status change.
How are workers/filers protected in the process?
Fair Trade USA and its partners will make every effort to protect workers that submit allegations. This includes keeping sensitive information confidential, working with trusted organizations in the investigation, and seeking guidance from local experts familiar with the national and local labor context, when necessary. Most importantly, retaliation by management against a worker who has filed a complaint will not be tolerated. Corrective action and/or immediate decertification of the farm/factory will be applied in such cases.
How does feedback affect the monitoring and certification process?
An allegation may trigger an unannounced audit at a farm, factory or other commercial entity (exporter, processor). The farm, factory or trader’s certification status may be suspended while an investigation is taking place, depending on the severity of the allegation.
What is the timeline for taking action on information submitted?
Fair Trade USA will acknowledge receipt of any allegation at the time it is received. The timing of an investigation of the allegation will vary, depending on the severity of the issue and the number and type of parties involved. Most cases will be reviewed and resolved within one month of the complaint.
What is the procedure for an appeal of the decision?
Both the complainants and the targets of a complaint have the right to appeal a decision once. A letter of appeal must be accompanied by supporting argumentation, documentation and/or evidence that the appealing party believes was not considered during the investigation. A final decision on the appeal will be made by the cross-departmental committee, in light of the additional evidence submitted, and will be communicated to the relevant parties.